How to disagree with your boss

I remember vividly as a young professional a time when I had a dissenting opinion about an important issue, but hesitated to offer it. 

The problem was that I didn’t feel encouraged to give an honest opinion if it conflicted (and it did!) with that of the people more senior to me at the time. The boss was defensive and took disagreement as some sort of insult or insubordination. And so, of course, he often heard what he wanted to hear, not what he needed to hear.

It’s not uncommon. We’ve had clients share with us that they don’t know why their team members won’t tell them the truthand others who struggle to be candid with their bosses or board members. 

If you’re the leader seeking good information to inform your decision-making, you can learn how good leaders handle honest feedback and criticism and strategies for making the best decisions.

When you’re on the other side of things and disagree with someone you report to, it can be challenging to figure out how you can share your opinion without watering it down (and without needing to duck and cover!). 

Disagree with your boss

Here’s how you can disagree with your boss with less worry about being blacklisted or fired:

  1. Line up those ducks of dissent beforehand.
    To be able to disagree, there has to be trust. Strong, respectful relationships allow people to contribute and communicate truth no matter where they are in the office hierarchy. This is why when we work with teams, we help them learn to build conflict (the good kind!) in the workplace.

    Instead of waiting for a time when you’re in a meeting and wonder whether you can share your thoughts freely, have that conversation with your boss when the stakes are low. Find out how your boss feels about dissenting opinions. How should your team handle and manage disagreements when the stakes are high? Having established ground rules about what healthy conflict looks like and how to encourage a culture that allows for healthy debate leads to better decisions and successful organizations.
  2. Read the situation and strategize.
    Timing, as they say, is everything. If you have established strong work relationships, sharing frankly with your boss is easier than it can be otherwise. Additionally, different personalities will take information better in different waysboth WHAT is delivered (facts and figures vs feelings) and HOW or WHEN it is shared (for example, in a group or privately).

    You might have very valuable insight for your boss, but it could be that if you share it in a public forum that boss will feel undermined and embarrassed. If this is the case, you’re better to ask to meet with your boss privately after the meeting (I have an idea to share with you offline about this situation. Do you have a minute to chat?)

    Perhaps it’s an important meeting with a variety of stakeholders present, but the tone is more one of brainstorming for solutions. In that case, contributing your radically different perspective in a respectful way (You know, it occurs to me that we could take a completely new approach and do this…) could be very well received.

    It can also be helpful to remember that other people are sharing ideas that they feel strongly about. Acknowledge the contributions you agree with (While I agree that X is an important consideration, and as you say that Y is another factor we need to keep in mind, I feel that….) and ask questions about the things you see as potential challenges or barriers (I hear what you’re saying about Z and that is valid, but I’m wondering about ABC. How would we handle ABC?).

    When you are able to stay collegial and collaborative, it helps to keep the focus on finding solutions rather than winning an argument. Asking questions is a way for you to ask for the opinions of someone more senior than you and offer your own reservations about a topic in a respectful way.
  3. Make your intention clear.
    Even if you have a good relationship with your boss and your work culture encourages healthy conflict and sharing of ideas, it helps to frame your contribution to the discussion in the right way.

    When there is tension or if things get heated, it’s human nature for people to feel defensive about their own positions. What is the goal that everyone hopes to achieve? Preface your idea as a way to meet that goal. This way, even if yours is a dissenting opinion, it doesn’t threaten the position that your boss cares about.

    “I know we all want to land this big account. I feel that we could still do this with what you’re suggesting but we need to consider X, Y, and Z before we tackle what you’re proposing.”

    It’s crucial that, especially when you don’t agree, you still show respect. A boss who feels you are respectfully sharing a counter-opinion will be much more likely to listen to understand (not just to respond!) than one who feels under attack.
  4. Ask for permission to speak freely.
    Some discussions in the workplace are much more delicate to navigate than others. It could be that there is a decision to be made around a disciplinary matter or an ethical decision.

    These are times when even if you’ve earned trust, it’s good to not only make your intent clear, but to ask for permission to share your thoughts honestly as a sign of respect.

    “I have some ideas about this, but I don’t want you to think I’m trying to undermine your position. I don’t feel right staying silent about this either because it’s crucial we make the best decision for the company. May I offer my opinion for you to consider?”

    When you negotiate the terms of sharing your truth, it’s less likely that your boss will mistakenly take your dissenting opinions as disrespectful or threatening.

In a perfect world, of course, your boss would love your ideas and take your opinions into consideration. If this is not the case, you need to respect the final decision and fully get behind it — that means doing whatever you need to do to make it successful (and not saying I told you so if down the road it turns out you were right!).

The good thing is that when you are able to disagree with your boss or the board and have your say, you’ll never regret that you didn’t say anything that could have changed the outcome. Not only that, but your boss will know that you can be counted on to say what you think courteously and respectfully.

Coach’s Questions

Have you ever disagreed with a boss or superior? What would you do differently to disagree with your boss now? Do you think your team members feel they can disagree with you? 

One key way to stay motivated

There are times a visual cue can help you stay motivated. 

Think of a thermometer graphic to show how much money has been raised for a fundraiser, the scoreboard and countdown clock during a basketball game, or filling a clear glass jar with change for a vacation fund. At a glance, you know the goal, the challenge, and progress.

It’s exciting and motivating all at once.

Many of our coaching clients confess they struggle to feel motivated and berate themselves for having a terrible character flaw but really procrastination or losing focus is part of being human. We all struggle with motivation from time to timeeven the most dedicated of leaders. 

And let’s face it: It can be a huge challenge to stay focused in an office full of distractions (let alone all the other distractions in life that can derail the best of plans). 

There is a quick, easy and inexpensive strategy that we can all use to stay on track and make progress with a goal: A simple visual cue.

How visual cues work

How simple? Paper clips work.

If you’ve ever read the New York Times bestseller Atomic Habits by James Clear, you’ll already know about the paper clip strategy and his theory that small changes can yield remarkable results (and if you haven’t read it, I highly recommend both this book and his blog about building good habits!). 

Essentially, the story Clear shares is that a young Canadian stockbroker named Trent Dyrsmid was working in sales at a bank in Abbotsford, BC in the early nineties. This rookie in the rural city about 45 minutes east of Vancouver, BC, had a goal to make 120 sales calls every day.

To stay motivated, Dyrsmid put 120 paper clips into a jar on his desk and another, empty, jar beside it. Each time he made a phone call, Dyrsmid moved a paper clip to the empty jar – and he didn’t stop until all 120 had been moved. 

The paper clips were a visual reminder of his goal and tracked his progress. Seeing them all moved from one jar to the other showed that he had met his daily goal. 

This simple habit worked and in less than two years the young stockbroker was bringing $5 million to his bank and earning a good salary (and a six-figure offer from another company soon followed!).

Why does a visual cue like this work so well? 

As Clear explains, Dyrsmid’s paper clip strategy worked because it was a good habit that stuck. The visual cue reinforced the good habit. 

The difference between people at the top of their field and others often isn’t intelligence, ability or even luck – it is consistency of effort. They have good habits and keep pushing day after day instead of getting derailed by life and bogged down by procrastination.

A visual cue, says Clear, is an effective way to stay motivated because:

It’s an immediate reminder. When the young salesman got to his desk, those two jars and the 120 paper clips were waiting for him. This simple visual trigger reminded him to start making those calls – before getting distracted by reading emails, talking with coworkers or reading the news online. He didn’t forget his daily goal and the habit of moving the paper clips kept him focused day after day, week after week.

It’s satisfying. Moving the paper clips from one jar to the other and watching the pile grow was a clear indication of progress. Counting each and every call ensured he didn’t cheat and call it a day after a few successes or an hour of calls, which is why the 120 paper clips worked so much better than simply blocking off an hour in the morning and crossing “make sales calls” off on a to-do list.  

It’s motivating. The act of moving 120 paper clips over created visual evidence of meeting the goal, which in turn reinforced the good habit of making all 120 calls. This habit ensured that the young stockbroker completed the sales calls that would drive his success. 

I have to add that the other reason that a visual cue worked for Dyrsmid is because he set a performance goal that was SMART – specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and timely. The visual cue of the paper clips helped him to stay on track.

Want to try using the paper clip strategy yourself?

First, you need to know which SMART goal a visual cue can help you achieve (you can use our ultimate goal setting worksheet to figure this out!). 

It could be that you have to make cold calls like the stockbroker in Clear’s book. Or it might be that you have to write a report and you break it down into three sections to tackle each day. Possibly you have to reply to X number of emails before noon to be at your most productive.

In your personal life, you might want to read a chapter of a leadership book, do 40 push-ups or eat three healthy meals a day. 

Whatever your goal, the key to an effective visual cue is to be able to measure your success. 

You might try moving paper clips (or marbles or stones) from one container to another. Or, you could move coins from one drawer to another or even stack them. Perhaps you put dots on the daily squares of your wall calendar. 

You’ll be on the right track as long as the visual cue:

  • Is meaningful for you and measures your progress
  • Is convenient and easy to incorporate into your daily routine
  • Is placed where you’re going to be reminded of this goal and work toward meeting it
  • Becomes part of your routine so that working toward your goal is a good habit

As American politician and Olympic medallist in track and field Jim Ruyn said: Motivation is what gets you started. Habit is what keeps you going. 

Coach’s Questions

When did you last struggle to stay motivated and on task? What goal could a visual cue help you to achieve right now? What about your team, could you use a visual cue to motivate your team members?

Managing Anger and Frustration in a Way that’s Helpful to Your Team

Your organization is pitching a big contract to a potentially huge client. Or, your government department is presenting a new approach to the Minister or a Cabinet Committee.

One of your team members is the principal on this particular topic and carries the ball – this team member is leading the presentation and fielding questions. Weeks of team effort are riding on them to get the deal done.

And they blow it. They drop the ball. They can’t answer a crucial question, or they have a weak response for a key concern. The result? Confidence is shaken among those making the decision and they decide to go a different way.

The team is upset, the person who was making the pitch is upset, and you as the leader are upset.

The whole team gets back to the office following this enormous loss. As the leader, should you: 

  1. Put on a fake smile, suppress frustration and not discuss the situation?
  2. Vent your frustration or anger?

Which is the better approach?

You may have chosen the first option and think others would agree with you. If you chose the second option, you might be thinking the same thing. 

So, we’ll call option (1) suppression. It’s something that a lot of folks do, especially in the workplace: they hide their feelings, pretend not to be upset, and avoid conversations where frustration and anger may arise. While it’s a common approach, it isn’t the best because it leads to a cascade of negative outcomes – for you it can lead to fewer close relationships (people never get to really know you and know what you care about) which means less social support, poor memory (you’re carrying around so much extra baggage, you can’t carry it all), anxiety, elevated blood pressure and, of course, ongoing hidden resentments.  It doesn’t stop there, your “suppressed” emotions still affect others – they pick up on the subtle cues and it can actually be more draining and stress-inducing on them than emotional expression.

Given the litany of problems that come from suppressing your emotions with the team, you might be inclined to think option (2), where you vent that frustration and anger, would be a good approach. Of course, doing that in the moment, or immediately following a crisis, might feel like a release for you or it might let you “get back to normal” quicker and not carry a grudge, but it affects your reputation as “quick to anger” and “explosive.” Not only that, venting also has lasting negative effects on the team – individual team members will have their confidence shaken, many will feel fearful or dejected and their performance going forward will be weakened knowing if they “mess up” they may face your wrath.

So, which is the better approach?

Neither, actually.

You see, there’s a third option beyond suppressing or venting feelings of anger and frustration.

Emotional Intelligence research demonstrates time and again that the leader’s ability to manage (not suppress) his or her emotions will significantly determine the team’s morale and motivation. And managing emotions means reappraising your emotions before reacting. Reappraising involves reminding yourself of the big picture:

“This is only one sale, there will be others”


“We can learn from this but we can’t change what is done; 

we need to look to the next opportunity.”

It might mean recognizing the principal salesperson is feeling shaken and unconfident and needs encouragement.

The key with reappraising is to take a moment, or two or more, to pause before reacting – but to be careful not to take too long. You don’t want to let a pause for reassessment turn into suppressing the feelings.

After reappraising, the leader might do something like this: call the team together and acknowledge the big feelings: we’re all feeling disappointed or frustrated or angry. The leader might emphasize that our success on the next bid, and the one after that, depends on everyone’s determination to support each other, to figure out what it takes to win next time and to support everyone who made an effort today.

A key role for a leader is to both manage and influence the emotional state of the people they lead. This is achieved by:

  • inspiring and instilling confidence in people, 
  • encouraging them to maintain motivation
  • helping them cope with difficulties to succeed in the goal. 

Effectively managing anger and frustration

To be effective at that, a leader has to effectively manage their own feelings. 

Studies show that leaders who can review their own feelings before showing them (note: not suppressing them!) help their followers manage their own responses to the same things. In one study, followers of leaders who suppressed their anger and frustration reported more negative attitudes toward the leader.

So how can you get better at reviewing and assessing if you’re not used to it?

  1. Practice seeing problems as challenges rather than threats. Focusing on how you can overcome the challenge rather than “react” to the threat builds resilience – in both you and your team. In our example that means turning the loss from a threat to your career or a threat to your reputation or success, to instead be a challenge to do better next time, or a challenge to fix a flub.
  2. Deep breathing. It may sound simple, but it isn’t simplistic – taking a moment to pause, and breathe, actually works wonders in letting your emotions relax and your brain time to focus for a bit. That “bit” is often all it takes to allow you to begin reassessing.
  3. Focus on the big picture and the longer term. How do we learn from today to make tomorrow even more successful than it would have been?
  4. Change the story you’re telling yourself.

    Change the story you’re telling yourself.


Imagine this situation: Someone is yelling at you in anger. It happened suddenly. You probably want to yell back or even lash out with something that’s critical of them. But what if I told you their mom died yesterday, or they’ve been in an ugly divorce case for months and this morning they lost custody of their kids or their workplace went out of business with no notice – leaving them with no job, no salary and no pension. 

Chances are, knowing that information, you might forgive the yelling. You might even respond to their anger with compassion. 

But what changed? The situation stayed exactly the same. They were yelling at you – but the story you’re telling yourself, the way you have filled in the blanks about WHY this is happening has changed. You’ve moved from taking this personally (making it about you and why they are being so awful to you) to being about them – “they must be having an awful day.”  You’ve moved from seeing a threat (“they’re an awful person”) to a challenge (“how can I help?”) Giving someone the benefit of the doubt is essentially changing your default view to something like, “they must be having a tough time.”

  1.     Ask yourself new questions to focus less on response and more on what could come of this, like, “what am I intended to learn here?” or “what can the team take away that will benefit them?”

Coach’s Questions

What has been your default response when you’re angry and frustrated? How has your reaction influenced your team’s response to a situation? What can you do to manage your feelings the next time you are angry or frustrated?

For the last several weeks we’ve been asking you to give us your requests for topics you want us to write about in the blog and boy, did you ever.  Thank you to everyone who gave us suggestions and entered our contest to win 6 of our favorite leadership books.
Keep following us on to see our articles inspired by your requests!
The winner of the grand prize is Marty Robinson of Medicine Hat, AB. Congratulations Marty!

7 Benefits of a Leadership Offsite

We’ve seen periods where our clients were big on over-the-top boondoggle getaways for the leadership team and times when they stopped all workshops and retreats for austerity reasons. That’s two ends of a spectrum and neither end is ideal for most organizations.  

Instead, somewhere in the middle – a getaway from the day-to-day challenges of the office without being too costly – brings a huge return on investment to most organizations if the time is well planned.

Why leadership offsite and why does it work?

An ideal leadership offsite will have an agenda that is focused on the big goals of the organization. Participants will work on big questions, talk about important ideas and work together to figure out a plan going forward. Or, there could be workshops on topics that will strengthen the group as a team — also helping to better achieve those big goals. 

Of course, some of the real benefits will be all the extra stuff that happens outside the agenda. 

What kind of extra benefits come from an offsite?

  1. Finding common purpose: When companies are planning their leadership offsite they seek to find “whole-organization” issues to work on instead of the “single department issues.” That’s great because it gives the team a chance to work together. While struggling to solve problems, folks will learn to work toward shared goals.
  2. Teambuilding: Connecting peers outside of work often means getting to know each other as people, as individuals and as humans outside of the work environment. And that goes a VERY long way to building trust  – and trusting each other, deeply, is at the foundation of moving from a GROUP to a TEAM. Strong work relationships are critical for success.
  3. Gaining perspective: Getting up from behind the boardroom table – literally getting a different point of view and walking away from the to-do list for a couple of days – gives people a chance to gain a new perspective on things. Many times different perspectives lead to new ideas and innovation.
  4. Overcoming fears: Participants get to explore new ideas and possibly share fears about the company and its direction that just don’t come up in task-related meetings.
  5. Building Skills: An offsite is a great time to bring in help to build skills in areas where individuals might be struggling. Maybe you help your leaders learn how to take a Coach Approach to Leadership to help grow the staff who report to them, or you help them have difficult conversations (we’d say help them have essential conversations) with each other. Perhaps you really want to take steps to build a truly cohesive and effective team. Think about the goals of your organization and what you need to build in your team to achieve them.
  6. Finding hidden talents: Changing the environment and making room for new perspectives often means participants start behaving differently and start showing new sides of themselves. This can open their eyes, and yours, to some talents they have that they aren’t using “back at the office.”
  7. Transforming from a leadership group to a leadership team: We often work with our client organizations to help them build their leadership team at offsite meetings. So that may seem odd – they’re a team but we help them be a team. You see, many, maybe even most, leadership teams aren’t really a team: They call themselves a team but they’re really just a group who meet once a week.

What’s the difference between a leadership group and a leadership team? 

A leadership group is a bunch of individuals, each quite likely highly talented in their field and successful in their careers who meet regularly. At those meetings, they offer up their expertise in their own area, they defend their budgets and their teams, they update the group on what they’re doing in their area and occasionally discuss issues with their colleagues at the table, when there are overlaps in their areas. 

  • They tend to “stay in their lane” and not challenge each other on the other’s area of expertise. 
  • They tend to be there as advocates of their own role and their own staff.  

In other words, the VP of Finance is there as the finance expert and to keep things on track financially, the VP of Sales is there to ensure the sales team is well supported and to make sure Sales keeps its position of importance in the company’s work, etcetera.

A leadership team has a shared stake in everything. While members of a cohesive and successful leadership team acknowledge each other’s expertise, that isn’t why they’re there. The VP of Finance is there to support the leadership team and to lead the company, the VP of Sales is there to support the leadership team and to lead the company, the VP of HR is there for the same reasons.  

  • They offer helpful suggestions to each other, regardless of their area of expertise.  
  • They challenge and ask questions of each other, regardless of their areas of expertise.  
  • They have built a level of trust with each other that allows them to do that and to know they’re doing it for the good of the company and the good of the team.  

On a leadership team, the VP of Finance knows when the VP of Sales is challenging her on a topic, it’s not to make himself look smarter than her, it’s not to build an empire in the Sales division and it’s not because he’s trying to protect his sales staff. He is doing it to see if he can help the VP of Finance make an even better decision for the good of the company.

Now that may seem like a fantasy world for some companies, but it isn’t. It’s the outcome of a group that consciously works to become a team. We regularly help leadership groups become cohesive leadership teams with our Five Behaviours programs.

Coach’s Questions

Do you think you have a leadership group or a leadership team? What can you do to become a stronger leadership team? When can you take your team for a leadership offsite and what would you like to work on?

Is there room for humor in executive leadership?

How often do you and your team laugh and joke at work? 

That might seem like a strange question, but humor at work can drive success in a variety of ways. Now, arguably some office cultures that are more open and creative are going to have very different examples of humor than perhaps an office with a more hierarchical workplace or very serious business mandate – but even a chuckle can be as important as laughing out loud.

Generally, people joke with people they are comfortable sharing experiences with (remember that one of the five behaviours of a cohesive team is trust!). Laughter and friendly banter are good signs for teamwork and productivity.

Skeptical? Medical schools are researching how humor affects health, psychology schools are looking into how humor is linked to mental health and wellbeing and elite business schools are investigating how humor helps with business success.

Humor helps

Consider that laughter:

  • Releases those feel-good endorphins
  • Lowers stress (and blood pressure!) and releases tension
  • Increases oxygen intake (which is good for your heart and muscles as well as your emotional well-being and focus)
  • Helps people cope with physical pain or feeling overwhelmed (the idea of the wisecracking cop or macabre-funny coroner is grounded in the reality that laughter helps us cope with painful situations)
  • Encourages a feeling of connection with others
  • Improves your mood and immunity
  • Boosts morale, creativity, and productivity

It’s easy to see how humor can really help to engage your team, encourage teamwork and motivate everyone when things are challenging. 

Humor and positivity can even help with corporate branding and engaging with customers (if you ever ordered from ThinkGeek before they were recently bought out, you may have laughed out loud like me at their cheeky customer emails from the ThinkGeek overlords and hilarious product descriptions). It’s why many big corporations pay big bucks for funny advertising and cleverly worded social media.

The trick is that humor is rather subjective and if you miss the mark, you risk having the opposite effect. Just like a good comedian, leaders need to read the room and know their audience.

A misplaced wisecrack or bad joke could risk the respect of your team members, offend people or even demotivate. I’m thinking of the many wince-worthy and cringe-inducing moments with Michael Scott, the Regional Manager on NBC’s The Office or David Brent if you’re a fan of the British original! The fictional character of the cringy boss was so funny because those moments sadly ring so true.

You can’t force funny. But it could be valuable to look for ways to encourage laughter and levity in the workplace.

Humor in leadership

Here’s what we do know about ways to use humor as a leader:

  • To make a joke and encourage a jovial atmosphere, you have to be able to take a joke
  • Positive, uplifting humor is far more powerful than negative (laughing WITH people is completely different than laughing AT them!)
  • The best jokes or funny moments are authentic and natural
  • It’s best to be careful not to cross any lines providing a harassment-free workplace includes not making team members uncomfortable with jokes that are offensive to, say, women or minorities or members of the LGBTQ+ community 
  • A bit of self-deprecating humor is funny, but research by a doctoral student at the London Business School shows employees have less respect for leaders who constantly make fun of themselves
  • Maintaining professionalism doesn’t mean your humor has to be PG, but tasteful will never be a bad choice (think: would I want this moment on YouTube or repeated to others outside this circle?)
  • There are different kinds of funny – find your own style (clever, witty, wry, teasing or haha)

If you’re not sure if people are laughing to be polite, watch their eyes. Someone who is genuinely amused will have a “Duchenne smile” (named for Guillaume Duchenne, a 19th Century French physician who studied facial expressions) with not just a smile at the mouth but crinkles around the eyes. Most of us can fake the smile but not the mirth in the eyes.

Opportunities to use humor

As leaders, we can look for opportunities to use humor to advantage. There are many opportunities, even when you’re staring down a deadline or wrestling with a never-ending project. Here are some ideas:

  • Poking fun at systems or something that everyone is worrying about
  • Inside jokes (preferably that are inside to everyone on the team) about shared experiences or relatable feelings
  • Laughing when you make a mistake (it puts everyone else at ease!)
  • Clever puns or retorts

There are several ways to actually set up occasions to encourage laughter. Consider things like:

Endorsing friendly wagers or office pools. I heard about one team comprised of Americans and Canadians, who had a bet for the winning US-Canada hockey game where the losing side had to create a top-10 list of why the other nation’s hockey team is better (the US won that year and the Canadians cleverly had “Your Canadian-born players are better than our Canadian-born players” as number one!). If sports aren’t your thing it could be predicting who will win something else — maybe Dancing with the Stars.

Picking moments for silly contests. You could challenge your marketing team to scoring the most baskets with crumpled paper balls before a brainstorming session or see if everyone will post a baby photo in the break room (whoever gets the top score on who’s who wins lunch). When the boss is able to smile and relax, the rest of the team feels more at ease and comfortable laughing. 

Holding social events and off-site activities. No matter what you do – see a ball game, go skating or airsofting, see who can get out of escape rooms the fastest – being together in a more relaxed environment is conducive to fun and laughter. Plus, funny and zany memories offer laughs to share for months to come. This can be especially helpful if the culture of your workplace is serious and not fun.  If you run a funeral home, it’ll be best to take the team out for your jokes and laughter!

Post a funny meme or comic in the staff break room or on your office board. Have a contest for the funniest office meme. I knew a quality leader who labeled his inbox, “The hip, the happening, the INBOX” just because and it was so ridiculous in an otherwise serious place that it always made people smile. Simply attaching a funny, apropos comic (thank you, Dilbert!) or gif (thank you, The Office!) to an email and sending it to your team underscores that you’re in it together – and might make them chuckle.

Use humor in presentations or speeches. You don’t have to write your own material! Just find a good joke or anecdote and attribute it to the creator. Find one-liners you’re comfortable using and try them out. I remember one veteran CEO who was known to be uncomfortable speaking in public being asked out of the blue to give a speech and he stood in front of everyone, paused with a bemused smile at the awkward silence and said, “I can hardly wait to hear what I have to say!” Everyone roared. Laughing puts everyone at ease and encourages dialogue.

Not too long ago we talked about ways to develop your executive presence. Highly effective leaders have certain qualities that people gravitate toward, including confidence, charisma, and compassion. 

When leaders use humor effectively, they’re seen as not only likable but also intelligent and more trustworthy. It’s emotional intelligence that differentiates great leaders from the rest.

And so it’s not surprising that a leader who is able to use natural, off-the-cuff humor to put people at ease and connect with them is going to be someone that people want to work alongside. Someone who smiles and can be genuinely funny (or appreciate humor and creativity!) is much more human and approachable – and even if it’s not a natural strength, you can work on it.

Coach’s Questions

Can you think of times you’ve seen executive leadership use humor effectively? How do you use humor at work? What could you do more often or differently?

Learn from (and Celebrate) Failures

Failing might be embarrassing. It might be painful financially or it could make you worry about your reputation. But you know what? Every failure is an opportunity to learn.

If we – and our teams – don’t experience failure, we might not push ourselves to do better. Feeling comfortable almost never gives us an edge on the competition.

Think about a few times in your career or personal life when you attempted something and failed. Grab a piece of paper and jot those failures down on the left side. Then, on the right side, make a point-form list of what you did to recover from each failure or how you overcame the challenges.

Whether it was work-related or personal, I suspect many of those failures gave you:

  •         A new perspective and quite likely a win
  •         Lessons in managing adversity
  •         An opportunity to reflect and figure out what you could have done differently
  •         Ideas about how to avoid this situation in the future
  •         Resolve 

Many times, our coaching clients discover that it’s their failures – not their successes – that made them stronger leaders.

Similarly, we can learn a lot about other people by asking about their experiences with failure.

In fact, any time that you’re interviewing potential new hires or consultants – or maybe considering which team member to choose for a particular project or promotion – asking candidates to tell you about two or three times they’ve failed and what they did to overcome the failures can be very illuminating.

Learn from failures

Why should we consider failure instead of just focusing on past successes? Because we learn about other people (and ourselves) by how they (or we) have coped with failure. The thing is, failing isn’t evidence of weakness or incompetence. It’s evidence of trying.

By reflecting on failure, we can learn if someone:

  •         Has the courage to take risks (or is averse to risk-taking)
  •         Learns from mistakes (or is too proud to admit them)
  •         Stretches to learn and grow (or stays safely stagnant)
  •         Takes accountability and actively seeks solutions (or shifts blame)
  •         Can accept defeat (or lives in denial)
  •         Is resilient and seeks new avenues (or doesn’t try because of a fear of failure)

You see, the way folks handle failure demonstrates their character. Whether people are willing to risk failing is important (we recently discussed reasons why it’s important for leaders to find the emotional courage to make mistakes and learn from them).

How leaders, in particular, view failure has implications for businesses and staff. Consider that:

American businessman and inventor Thomas Edison (whose many inventions included the incandescent electric lightbulb, phonograph and motion picture camera) didn’t let failures stop him from continuing his work, saying famously: “I haven’t failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

French fashion designer and businesswoman Coco Chanel saw value in failure, saying: “Strength is built by one’s failures, not by one’s successes.”

Finding the courage to risk failure served Thomas J. Watson, the chair and CEO of International Business Machines (IBM) from 1914 to 1956, well. He advised: “If you want to increase your success rate, double your failure rate.”

Internationally successful author, screenwriter, and producer J.K. Rowling has said: “It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all – in which case, you fail by default.”

I find it interesting that these highly successful people – from diverse industries, different cities and even different time periods – don’t seem afraid or ashamed of failure. Instead we see from their statements that:

  •         Taking risks means accepting there will be some failure
  •         Failures are learning opportunities
  •         Perseverance is critical
  •         Fear of failing can limit the potential for success

As leaders, we need to remember that how we react to failure (for ourselves and for our teams) can significantly affect the performance of our team members.

Celebrate your failure

We have to learn from and even sometimes celebrate (yes, celebrate!) failure. Here’s how:

Keep the focus on learning. If you focus on the failure and it’s punitive, no one will want to admit they made a mistake. They will either stop trying new things or start hiding the failures. Instead, take opportunities to debrief and discuss what went wrong. This is the opportunity to look for ways to improve the process (with metrics!), examine lessons learned and brainstorm other solutions. “What can we learn from this” is far more powerful than “what did you do wrong?”

Build the framework. If you’re thinking right about now, “I get it but there’s no way I want my team going off in all directions on ill-thought boondoggles,” then build the framework for your team of what is an acceptable risk of failure. Help define the parameters. When is complete failure okay, or even useful, in learning something new? When is some failure okay if there’s a mitigation plan in place? When are you unwilling to accept any attempts to improve (and thus, no acceptance of failure)? If you can define what fits into each category, and then live up to it in how you react to failure, your staff will learn to try.

Feel the feelings. Failing is hard. We’re not trying to pretend it’s okay – or that there shouldn’t be accountability. Certainly, some organizations would rather ignore or punish failure than manage it, but rallying everyone to get back up after being knocked down and focusing on learning from mistakes can make for a stronger and more determined comeback.

Walk the talk. Make sure that positive performance reviews and raises or bonuses are not all tied to successes only. If you want to foster an environment of learning, growth, and innovation, your team has to see that everyone is evaluated for wise effort and not just successful results. Celebrating aspects of failed projects (“we learned some valuable lessons here” or “because of this project we knew to focus on this aspect”) will reinforce the idea of learning and improving.

Try new approaches. Some tech companies give their staff time to work on their own ideas and experiments for new products or services for the company. Other corporations take a cold case approach to failures and encourage staff to revisit them from time to time to see if they come up with solutions or new ideas.

Encourage discussion. When everyone on your team feels it is safe to raise concerns and admit there are problems, it’s easier to give up on something that isn’t working and change direction. There are ways to build a stronger team so that everyone feels comfortable innovating, being accountable and taking risks. An environment that encourages agile thinking can save time, money and resources – and pave the way for innovation and (you guessed it!) success.

Coach’s Questions

How have you reacted to failures in the past for yourself? For your staff? Will your approach to failure change now? What can you do to encourage your team members to take measured risks, accept failures and learn from them?

How your DiSC personality style affects work-life balance

I think most leaders I meet with recognize that work-life balance is an important goal for themselves and their team members.

Most agree that finding work-life balance is directly proportional to job satisfaction, mental health, physical health and retention of team members (people who are happy and healthy will stay with an employer longer and work harder than those who are living to work 24/7!).

So why is achieving work-life balance still a struggle for so many folks?

Why does it still top discussions and priority lists for individuals and organizations?

I think it’s partly because folks just don’t have strategies for achieving work-life balance and partly understanding how your own inherent behaviors affect work-life balance.

Self-awareness is the cornerstone of change. If you can’t see what’s contributing to or motivating certain behaviors, it’s unlikely you’re going to change.

What is DiSC style?

At Padraig, our coaches use a tool called Everything DiSC – both as an assessment tool to help individuals and as a workshop tool for teams and groups. Our regular readers will already be familiar with DiSC, but if you’re new to Padraig, basically this tool helps our clients understand themselves and others better. We all have a style and there is no right, wrong or “best” style.

By understanding your DiSC behavior style (and the styles of other team members, or of customers!), you can manage your interactions and relationships with them better. You gain insight into what motivates each personality and how to manage and communicate in the best way.

Each DiSC style has different strengths and weaknesses – and these all come into play with trying (desperately at times!) to achieve work-life balance.

DiSC style characteristics and work-life balance

Many times folks need reminding – or perhaps even permission – that they are entitled to establish boundaries at work. Having some ideas about HOW to do this can be very helpful.

But WHY you feel you can’t set boundaries may vary according to your DiSC personality style:

  • The Dominant “D” is a take-charge personality, and taking charge means seeing things through. Focused, direct and goal-oriented D styles might be organized at home and at work, but those work goals might keep a D working late. If that’s what it takes, a D will do it – and expect others to do the same to finish what they say they’ll finish on deadline.
  • The Influential “i” thrives on social interaction, loves new ideas and prefers flexibility. An i tends to prioritize volunteer and social engagements inside and outside of work, so balance may be less about making personal life a priority than making time for rest. The i style might be overly sensitive to disapproval from team members or bosses who are working long hours or after hours (or to put a positive spin on it, bosses who are inadvertently pressuring others to work long hours, too!).
  • Going a bit further, the Steady “S” tends toward people-pleasing. They want to make sure others have what they need and are content. They might long for work-life balance but will tend to avoid confrontation and have to work hard at expressing personal ideas (preferring consensus and predictability). The S values relationships and could sacrifice personal wants/needs to align with the majority or to please a corporate culture that makes work-life difficult – even if the relationships at home are important, too.
  • The Conscientious “C” works well independently and tirelessly, skilled at analytical thought and great at problem-solving. The C personality style does tend to get mired in details, which can lead to long hours at work (great for startups and corporations – but a risk factor for burnout personally and for others trying to keep pace). These are the folks who may be less interested in cultivating a wide-reaching personal life but would rather focus on one or two strong personal relationships. However, they are also the folks who can get so distracted by a problem or a challenge, they lose all track of time and forget to check-in or make time for others.

You can see how certain DiSC styles might be their own worst enemy when it comes to work-life balance, putting pressure on themselves to work harder or longer and striving for perfection – or people-pleasing and avoiding any whisper of confrontation if everyone else is working long hours. The behavior style of your boss can also be a challenge to asserting your needs for some work-life balance.

Imagine, for example, a Steady “S” person resolving to be off the clock by six but then caving in when a Dominant “D” boss announces he’s staying late to work on a project and ordering dinner in for everyone who stays to chip in.

Or, think about an Influential “i” team member who feels anxious about a meeting where there was criticism about not responding quickly enough to an important email. Feeling overly sensitive, this person now obsessively checks email all day and after hours to ensure they don’t miss anything again. What’s going to happen to work-life balance now?

When you complete one of our Everything DiSC Assessments and Guides, you’ll understand how to make the most of your strengths and work on improving your weak areas. It helps to understand what motivates you and how you like to communicate so that when you’re dealing with other personality styles you can adapt.

For example, when dealing with a Dominant “D” leader, you’re not going to want to ramble. The D personality style appreciates direct communication and being asked for opinions but cannot stand someone committing to something and then not following through, so don’t beat around the bush. If a D asks you to get something done ASAP, but you’re on your way to your partner’s very important event, say: “I have a commitment tonight, but I can clear tomorrow morning to tackle that. Do you want me to involve X person from X department as well?”

Remember that there are some strategies for achieving work-life balance that are effective for all personality styles. Having a few of these in your toolkit helps you to approach tasks, requests and obligations without sacrificing your personal life and well-being.

Similarly, there are ways to set boundaries at work and know when (and how!) you can say no without losing the respect of your boss, colleagues or team members. The more you practice setting boundaries, the easier it becomes for every DiSC personality style.

Coach’s Questions

How do you feel about your work-life balance right now? How could your own inherent behavior style affect your own work-life balance? What about for others on your team? What would help you make changes to achieve better work-life balance?

“How are you?” “Oh, busy”

If someone asks you how you’re doing, what’s the first word that pops into your mind?

I’m going to bet that it’s, “Busy.”

Often nowadays, that’s what I hear. Not “fine.” Not “great!” Not even, “okay.” Busy is by far the top response – and I know this isn’t some new and unusual aberration for me as an executive coach.

A few years ago, the John Hopkins Health Review discussed “the epidemic of overscheduling” around the globe in an article memorably titled, “The Cult of Busy” (and nothing’s changed it seems!).

Not long after, the venerable periodical The Atlantic published a piece about how busyness has become the status symbol of our time – in North America in particular. It’s not just a popular buzzword; being busy has become synonymous with being important and successful. As the article points out, there was a time that having ample time for recreation and leisure was the goal! Those who were admired for their success and their wealth were those who didn’t have to be busy.

So it’s not surprising that Psychology Today has copious articles about combating the culture of being busy (with advice about how to stop being busy or being addicted to being busy or the need to be busy). It seems on some level there is acknowledgement that being busy isn’t healthy.

And yet, this idea of being busy permeates our culture and it’s taken over not just work life but personal lives, too.

It’s time for us as leaders to shift ourselves from BUSY to PRODUCTIVE.

Not sure what I mean?

You can be busy all day but still not accomplish your goals. For instance, you could run around to endless meetings and work on five different projects and be busy, really busy, but not achieve anything truly important.

Busy can be an outcome of being distracted. For example, you could clean your inbox all day and talk with a few team members, but not get to your goals. And if you don’t have goals, here’s a reminder why setting goals is important.

Busy can be getting a lot of “stuff” crossed off your to-do list but not making any progress toward the most important thing on your list. Some folks get so used to living in a constant state of urgency that they lose sight of what’s urgent versus what’s important. Often we are busy when we’re dealing with urgent issues but we’re productive when we’re dealing with important issues.

In our blog about living in a constant state of urgency, we highlight the Eisenhower matrix as a tool that helps folks determine what is urgent versus what’s important. By assigning tasks to one of four quadrants, you can figure out what’s urgent and important, important but not urgent, urgent but not important, and not urgent and not important (time wasters!). The goal is to spend the majority of your time working on what is important and not urgent (catching important things before they’re urgent – and thus focusing on the big goals!).

Productive might not feel like a LOT has been accomplished but will feel like IMPORTANT progress has been made (and that’s a shift for many of us – to feel good about progress on something significant rather than striking several little things off a long but perhaps less important list).

NOTE: If you like a to-do list and find joy comes from striking things off that list – one big way to shift from busy to productive is to break up the big goals into tasks THAT GET YOU THERE and put those tasks on the list.

Busy can be directly linked to perfectionism. It can be challenging to be productive (even though we’re still busy) if we are striving for perfection – thinking there is only one right way to do something and spending all day researching it, figuring out all the details.

A productive person tends to think, “What do I need to do to get this done?” whereas busy people often think, “What do I need to do to get this just right?”

So, what can we do to move away from being busy to being productive?

1.     Think bigger, then think smaller. Wait, what?

Decide on 1, 2 or 3 big goals – things that when you accomplish them will set you apart, or they will bring you a next step of success, or they will bring you great joy, etcetera.
Focus your to-do list on the tasks that need to happen to achieve goal 1, then the tasks to achieve goal 2, and so on.

2.     Focus on ONE THING AT A TIME. Busy people are multi-taskers. Productive people are focused on one thing at a time.
Now then, in real life you can’t always be focused just on your one thing. I get that. But the other two things productive people are good at are (1) blocking their time and (2) taking breaks.

3.     Blocking your time and taking breaks means setting manageable chunks of time to get things done, with a break after, constantly. So you might set 50 minutes to work on Task X which gets you one step closer to goal 1. Then you might take a 10-minute break and spend 50 minutes focused on Task Z which gets you one step closer to goal 2. Then back to Task X, etcetera. Now, it might not be 50 minutes and 10 minutes for you. Maybe it’s 20 minutes and 5 minutes.

It might mean trying to pay attention for a few days to how long you can focus on one task before needing a break (ie., before wandering off, before opening Facebook, before staring off into space).

You may find that time is different for different tasks.  Maybe you love math and organizing and so you can go HOURS working on a spreadsheet, but get distracted after 15 minutes of writing a report. Or, maybe you’re the opposite and writing in long stretches is easy for you but numbers are easy to ditch.

Blocking time might mean that instead of setting aside an hour to work on that spreadsheet, you set up 3 blocks of 15 minutes, each followed by a five-minute break.  So that’s an hour in your schedule but you don’t block it as an hour; you block it as 15 – 5 – 15 – 5 – 15 – 5. And you stick to that schedule.

4.     Blocking time for things means also controlling your calendar. I personally have probably the worst thing in the world for keeping me focused – a calendar that my clients can schedule themselves into directly. So, to control my calendar, I make sure to block my calendar ahead of time for things I have to focus on and accomplish.

5.     A key component for successfully moving from busy to productive is eliminating distractions. When an interruption could derail your focus (the person at your office door, the phone, emails coming in, your own boredom or distraction) – you ignore that distraction till break time (or, if it’s that person at your door looking to chat – maybe you tell them that they’ll have your attention in X minutes or at X o’clock when you break from the task you’re working on rather than ignore them!). We have discussed all sorts of ways to stay focused in an office of distractions – it is possible!

6.  Know your goals and define your wins. Some of us need external motivation to get us going or keep us going. Delivering Goal 1 might be a huge goal but it’s still in the distant future. We still have many tasks to complete and it seems daunting to get there. Setting smaller wins along the way might help  – especially if you have any sort of attention deficit. So, perhaps you remind yourself you can grab some chocolate almonds, as soon as you finish this task – and not before. Or, you remind yourself how good it’s going to feel to go to see a movie tonight and not think about work  – but you know that will only happen if you push through and finish Task X before you leave for the evening.

Coach’s Questions

How often are you busy rather than productive? What are some things you could do to be more productive? How can you encourage your team members to be productive?

Finding the emotional courage to make mistakes (and learn from them)

As a leader, you take courses and attend workshops. You listen to the feedback given to you by your boss – both informally and in performance reviews. You share best practices with peers and learn what’s worked for them, too. You devour articles and books about leadership. You read this blog. 😉

You take your role seriously and you want to learn how to do better. 

And that’s the key: In addition to LEARNING new techniques and strategies, you have to DO the new techniques and strategies.

Some courses or workshops include activities based on real-life situations, role-playing exercises, etcetera which are useful but it’s very different to use skills in real-life situations with your team members than it is to try them out in a classroom.

Taking theory and putting it into practice takes more than just conscious effort. Let’s face it, it can be much easier to read about how to deal with difficult employees or how to tackle bad conflict on your team than to actually start using new ideas.

I’ve often had coaching clients express feeling uneasy about following through on what they’ve learned. What if it goes wrong? What if it doesn’t work? What if I don’t do this right?  Of course, the easy answer is, “what if you keep doing what you’ve been doing and nothing improves?

The thing is, successful leaders in any organization don’t get there by knowing more, they get there because they put what they know into practice. They wade into those tricky areas of leadership – like managing office politics, addressing problems promptly, improving communication among team members or departments, making the best decisions in crisis situations, leading with confidence through difficult times, building trust in the office and more –  and they take action.

Being able to use what you learn to improve your leadership takes what nowadays we call emotional courage (it would have been simply guts or intestinal fortitude in the past!). It means that you find the strength to push through unsettling feelings of discomfort, anxiety or dread to try something new. Having emotional courage is what lets us take risks, face things head on and break old habits.

As with any new skills, practice makes perfect. You need to test out the things you’ve learned and see what works well and what could be done differently or better next time. The more you practice, the easier it becomes to use a technique again – even when emotions or stakes are higher.

Learn how and when to practice your leadership skills:

Be brave. Making the decision to act is part of the battle because fear flourishes when we feel uncertain. Don’t overthink it, just do your best. Some folks like to give themselves permission to fake it till they make it. Perhaps you’ve been putting off having THE TALK with your pre-teen. Pick a time and place and wade into that uncomfortable topic of the birds and the bees with a few key points to focus on. Those feelings you’re pushing through? Surprisingly similar to deciding to have a difficult conversation with a team member who is not contributing as they should be at work.

Start with low-risk situations. It takes time to build confidence and learn to use new skills well. Test them out in times that are less intense so that when you need to use the same skills in a crisis, you’ll feel more comfortable. For example, having a difficult conversation (without losing it or giving in on your position!) over a personal billing situation will build your confidence to handle conflict with a big client who is unhappy with an invoice sent by someone on your team.

Aim for progress, not perfection. Too often, we beat ourselves up for not getting things perfect the first time. Keep in mind that you are learning to apply these skills to infinite combinations of situations and personalities. There may be times that you do all the right things and there might be times you realize you could have done something differentlyand that’s okay. You’ll learn more from your mistakes than you will from not trying.

Keep adding to your toolkit. Successful leaders are lifelong learners because what works in one situation might not be the best strategy in another. And what worked 2 years ago might not be best now. The more we know about and test different skills, the better we can be.

Solicit feedback. Don’t be afraid of hearing where things fell short from your peers, your team or from a trusted mentor. Good leaders aren’t afraid of criticism and see feedback as a learning opportunity. If you’re having trouble with getting feedback, or how you’re reacting to it, maybe work with a coach. Remember that the best athletes have coaches (and so do many of the most successful leaders!).

Practice, practice, practice all the time. The more you use your leadership tools, the better you’ll develop those muscles. Many folks find it helpful to refine their leadership skills outside the office (there’s that low-risk opportunity again!) so they are more confident using them at work. For example, you can test whether you’re listening to respond in your personal relationships, help to strengthen working relationships in a community group or try a COACH Approach as a board member on a volunteer organization. Interacting with people from varied backgrounds will help you hone your skills and expand your thinking.

Take time to reflect regularly. Journaling can be a very helpful way to focus on ways to improve your leadership (so much so that we consider it the one leadership habit you can’t live without). Consider areas you’d like to improve in like giving better performance reviews or having essential conversations and take note of any achievements you make in these areas. You can watch for opportunities to try out different leadership tools in different situations.

Coach’s Questions

What leadership skills have you learned about but hesitated to try in real life? What’s holding you back? How and when can you practice something this week?

What to do when faced with an office betrayal

While we expect some office politics or complicated workplace relationships, sometimes folks are blindsided by an office betrayal.

As a leadership coach, I hear different ways people feel betrayed in business. Things like:

I confided in a coworker, who then gossiped to others and hurt my professional reputation.

I found out that my relationship with a big client has been sabotaged. My colleague is either trying to take the account over or ruin it for me.

I worked so hard on this project, but another colleague took credit for it.

My boss promised me that a job was mine, and then the company announced that someone else has been promoted.

I work closely with other team members and found out that they’ve made important decisions behind my back.

I trusted a team member and in the executive meeting they threw me under the bus.

I trusted a client to pay for or deliver goods or services, only to be left in the lurch. This has really hurt my business.

However it happens, betrayal is trust that is broken. It might be trusting someone you shouldn’t have or learning that you’ve been deceived or conspired against.

You’re left shocked, angry, sad, hurt, unvalued or indignant – or a combination of these feelings.

How devastated you are by the betrayal typically depends on how trusting your connection to your betrayer is (so being betrayed by a competitor might not be as upsetting as being betrayed by a mentor or a teammate at work) or whether the breach of trust was minor or major.

Still, here you are, left feeling upset, suddenly insecure and maybe even feeling stupid. Now what? How do you handle an office betrayal and how do you move forward?

Stay calm and assess the situation

Sometimes our first response is to confront someone and get to the bottom of things. Whether someone else has brought the betrayal to your attention or you’ve uncovered information that suggests betrayal, you need time to figure out what has actually transpired. Ask yourself:

  • Are you dealing with gossip? Hearing things second-hand?
  • What proof do you have that you have been betrayed?
  • How objective can you be about the situation?
  • Are you making any assumptions (check out our Ladder of Assumptions tool)? Jumping to conclusions?
  • Was there actually intent to betray, sabotage or deceive you? Or is it possible it was thoughtlessness or lack of professionalism or a misunderstanding?

Keep in mind is that others don’t read things the same way you do and they don’t see the world the same way you do. It doesn’t mean they’re right or wrong, it just is. Now, I’m not suggesting you excuse the behaviour just because they’re different than you – I’m saying it’s worth reflecting on how they might have seen it, before you confront them based on your own assumptions, and your own way of seeing the world.

For example, perhaps Rob tells you that Jane was taking credit for a project that was your idea. Was she maliciously trying to ignore your contribution? Or is it possible that Rob overheard only part of a conversation and doesn’t realize that she made it clear that you deserved more credit than she does?

Have that difficult conversation

You might want to either rage or hide, but once you’ve quickly assessed how you might be reading things differently than the other person, the next step is to have a conversation with the person you feel betrayed you. (If this is the n-th time this has happened, or it is so egregious you really feel you can’t face them, then you can talk to your boss or Human Resources, or someone else who has the authority to do something about it.) But, you should almost always have a reasoned conversation with the other person first.

One of the biggest things to avoid is having a conversation with someone else about the person and the situation – without seeking a solution. It’s one thing to go to a trusted friend or colleague or mentor and say, “Here’s what happened; how do I deal with it?” – which can be helpful, compared to, “Here’s what happened; can you believe how awful they are?” – which may feel helpful but now you’re gossiping. In our leadership workshops we call this “triangulation” and it’s one of the worst malignancies found in organizations and relationships.

It’s uncomfortable for many folks to confront someone, but it’s possible to turn difficult conversations into essential conversations. It is much better to have a private conversation (in person, not by text or email!) about something that is troubling you than to carry it around, building on the assumptions in your own mind.

How you approach the conversation is crucial and will set the tone, so rehearse how you’ll broach the subject. Remember that the other person might not even realize that you feel betrayed. Yep, it’s possible.

For example, perhaps you thought you were going to be given more leadership opportunities but the boss has assigned your colleague to head up the latest project. Instead of walking in and complaining that should have been your opportunity, state your concern and ask about it with more curiosity:

“You know how we discussed me growing in a leadership role? I was surprised I wasn’t a candidate to lead Project X. Could you tell me how you decided on the lead this time and what I could do differently to be considered next time?”

You sound professional, motivated and open to hearing how to improve. You’ll likely find out more than if you went in angry and might even find out that you’re up for something bigger and better.

Perhaps it’s a situation where a coworker didn’t keep information you shared private. Instead of going in angry and accusatory, try a less directly accusatory approach:

“I told you about the new business leads in confidence. I was really shocked when Janet told me you told her all about them. What happened?”

It’s possible this colleague will confess that he couldn’t help it and broke your confidence. It’s also possible that you’ll find out that Janet baited your colleague by pretending to know more. Again, there’s a difference between deliberate and unintentional actions. The result may be the same but how you approach the “culprit” will go a long way in determining the relationship between the two of you.  

Susan Scott, author of Fierce Conversations, said it best, “Our work, our relationships, and our lives succeed or fail one conversation at a time. While no single conversation is guaranteed to transform a company, a relationship, or a life, any single conversation can.”

To help ensure success in the conversation, be sure that you aren’t listening to respond – this is a time when you need to listen to understand.

If the stakes are higher – like you’ve learned that a team member you trusted has allegedly harassed the summer intern or someone is “borrowing” from petty cash – or someone is maliciously trying to ruin your professional reputation – seek guidance from Human Resources, a trusted mentor or even legal counsel. Leave the difficult conversations to be mediated by professionals with experience handling these more delicate situations.

Otherwise, take a few minutes to prepare your thoughts before you start an essential conversation with someone – or download our free worksheet to help you get focused.

Figure out what you want

There is no one way to resolve a situation of betrayal. Here are some things to consider:

  • This is the time to have your say. State the impact of these actions on you, your team, or the company as applicable. You can be candid about your hurt, disappointment or anger and still remain professional.
  • When you speak up after a betrayal, you’re holding the other person (or people) accountable for their actions. This helps to clear the air and allow you to move toward finding solutions – or in dire situations, consequences like dismissal or corrective action. It also might help prevent this situation from recurring.
  • Focus on problem-solving rather than blame.

Be clear about what you want. This might be, for example, something like:

“I’d like a shot at drafting our next product pitch. What could I do to be considered?”

“It will be hard for me to trust you with confidential information. It’s going to take work to rebuild that.  I’m willing to try next time I’ll be very clear when something is not to be shared with anyone.”

Rebuild trust or create distance?

It’s always good to reflect on your role in the situation but can be hard not to blame yourself when you’ve been betrayed. Try to leave the what-ifs and I should-haves out of your inner dialogue and take situations like these as learning opportunities. As you reflect, consider:

  • What did you miss?
  • Did you ignore warning signs?
  • What might you have done to lessen the chance of this happening?
  • Did the person intentionally betray you? Did they offer an effective apology?
  • How could I have responded differently?
  • What can I do now that I know about this?

Try to learn lessons from the situation and determine how to protect yourself in the future. Remember that the betrayal says less about you than it does about the person who broke your trust. And, your response to it is a reflection of you, not them.

Some work relationships are worth salvaging, though rebuilding trust may take some time. Some work to build a more cohesive team can help if the situation was based on a misunderstanding, poor communication or insecurity.

If the breach of trust is great, and discipline or HR policies don’t result in the betrayer being fired, you may still have to work together. Be professional, but exercise caution when you interact with someone who has been purposefully malicious or untrustworthy. Try not to speak with them without a third party present, communicate in writing so there is a record of who said what and quietly document interactions. It’s possible that you might want to ask that you work with another team or department going forward.

Whatever you do, don’t engage in gossip or backstabbing. Cultivating strong work relationships takes time and energy, and sometimes even professional workshops to help build a stronger team. Remember that you don’t have to like someone to work with them effectively. And you can put your energy toward those team members who do have your back!

Coach’s Questions

What can you do differently when faced with a workplace betrayal? How can you support a team member who feels betrayed? What can help to rebuild trust?